New Testament Introduction - Lesson 4

Son of Man, Kingdom of God

The terms “Son of Man” and  “kingdom of God” appear often in Matthew and Mark. The kingdom of God is the divine saving activity of God breaking into human history.

Ben Witherington
New Testament Introduction
Lesson 4
Watching Now
Son of Man, Kingdom of God

Son of Man, Kingdom of God

I. “Son of Man” and “Kingdom of God” in Matthew and Mark

A. Use in the Old Testament (Daniel 7)

B. Son of God was a title for human kings

C. Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man in the third person

D. Dyatic personality

E. Son of Man not often used to refer to Messiah until Jesus did

II. Kingdom of God

A. The divine saving activity of God breaking into history

B. Dominion

III. Luke

A. Writing as a historian

B. Theophilus

C. Story of continuation

D. Story of new beginnings

E. Birth narrative comparison between Matthew and Luke

F. Inaccurate traditions

  • When reading the Bible, there is a danger of reading our own ideas into the text and assuming they are there. A text without a context is a pretext for whatever you want it to mean.

  • Dr. Witherington continues the discussion on the importance of using context in interpretation and walks through the different types of context.

  • Matthew, Mark and John are like ancient biographies. Luke-Acts is more like an ancient historical monograph.

  • The terms “Son of Man” and  “kingdom of God” appear often in Matthew and Mark. The kingdom of God is the divine saving activity of God breaking into human history.

  • Luke uses Mark as a primary source. He organizes his material geographically “to” Jerusalem, while Acts is organized “from” Jerusalem.  Luke emphasizes apologetics to make his case that Christianity should be considered a legal religion in the Roman Empire. The divinity of Jesus is more vividly portrayed in the gospel of John than in the synoptics.

  • There was great animosity between the Jews and Samaritans that went back hundreds of years.  In telling the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus was not only challenging stereotypes but shaming a man who thought he was a righteous Jew. It’s unacceptable to use your orthodoxy as a tool to justify your prejudices against other kinds of people.

  • Jesus teaches that there is not always a direct correlation between sickness and sin. The religious officials often thought that Jesus did not measure up to what they thought a prophet should be. All of Jesus’ miracles are acts of compassion, not primarily to prove that he is the messiah.

  • Salvation according to the gnostics is a self-help program for those with inside knowledge. The gnostic gospels were never on any of the canon lists of the early church. The church recognized the canon, they didn’t form the canon. God has revealed enough about the future to give us hope, but not so much that we don’t have to live by faith each day.

  • Apocalyptic literature arises when justice is deferred. It develops the ideas of the “other world” and the “afterlife.” God is being worshipped for what he is about to do to transform the world into his kingdom. Dispensational theology supports the teaching of a rapture.

  • A genuine prophecy was intended to be understood and it was spoken in known languages. Apocalyptic literature was often written during periods of exile.  Worship is not about giving people what they want, it’s about giving God what he desires and requires. True worship requires that we are in the Spirit and give our whole selves to God.

  • In times of exile, people didn’t see God carrying out justice in their lifetime so they thought it must happen later by God raising them from the dead. Your behavior in this life affects the eternal outcome. When we die, our spirit goes to be with God, our body decays and eventually God gives us a heavenly body that will be everlasting like our spirit.

  • Parable comes from a word meaning figurative or metaphorical speech of any kind. They are analogies and part of wisdom literature. Jesus purposefully spoke in public in figurative ways to challenge people to think about the ideas he was presenting. He gives us insights into God’s character and the relationship between him and God the Father.

  • Parables are intended to tease your mind into active thought about God. You can tell the character of a person by what they do when they think nobody is watching. The parables have both justice and mercy, righteousness and compassion.

  • The first missionary journey started in Antioch. Paul, Barnabas and John Mark worked together. Paul shames his detractors by boasting about things that most people thought were shameful. Paul’s letters were written as conversations in context, not as theological tracts.

  • In the Old Testament, “hesed” refers to the love God promised to give to the people to whom he betrothed himself (i.e., Jews). The paradigm of “agape” is God in Christ. On the cross, Christ gave with no thought of return. Paul’s letters were meant to be read in a public discourse setting as an act of worship. An effective rhetorical presentation appeals to both the mind and the emotions of people.

  • Understanding the structure of rhetoric can help you understand scripture better and preach more effectively.

  • When Jesus came to earth, he accepted a slave’s position and willingly suffered a slave’s death. Jesus “emptied himself” by giving up his divine prerogatives. Jesus assumes the role of “Lord” (God) at resurrection and thereafter. Christ doesn’t reflect God’s glory, he radiates it.

This course is will help you begin to weave yourself through the maze of NT studies. During the course we will be exploring several major subject areas: 1) the history of the period in which the NT was written; 2) the social and cultural milieu in which early Christians lived; 3) the practice of the scholarly study of the NT (source, form, redaction, genre, rhetorical criticism et al.); 4) questions of introduction about the books of the NT (authorship, date, audience, structure, purpose); 5) the practice of exegesis and hermeneutics.

What we were basically arguing in the previous session was that we have three gospels that are like ancient biographies and we have one that's like an ancient historical monograph in two volumes: Luke and Acts. One of the issues that the so-called synoptic gospels raise, and I'm assuming you know what the word "synoptic" means. "Optic" means "eye", "syn" means with, "with one eye". Matthew, Mark and Luke are the synoptic gospels because basically they look at Jesus from a similar point of view, whereas John is something else. Okay. That's why they are called the synoptic gospels.

But when we are talking about commonalities in the way that Jesus is portrayed in these gospels, there are two phrases that are regularly on Jesus's lips. Jesus's own lips. Not everybody else's lips, Jesus's lips. And those phrases are "Son of Man", and "Kingdom of God". The two most frequent phrases on the lips of the synoptic Jesus, whether we're talking about Matthew, Mark or Luke, is "Son of Man" and "Kingdom of God".

Now, we also have some of that in the gospel of John, but a good deal less. There are about seven or eight places in the Gospel of John where the phrase Son of Man is used by Jesus of Himself. There is even one place where Jesus asks a person to confess him as the Son of Man. That's the man born blind in John 9. The phrase Kingdom of God does not come up that often in the Gospel of John. We do see it in the Nicodemus story in John 3.

There are a couple of other places in the dialogue with Pilate. "Are you a king? If you're a king you have a kingdom." "My kingdom is not of this world," says, Jesus. So there is some discussion of kingdom, some discussion of Son of Man in the fourth gospel, but considerably less than in Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Now the reason it's important for us to get a good fix on these phrases and what they actually mean is because they are the most familiar, important and repeated phrases on the lips of Jesus, and they reveal something important about how viewed Himself. Jesus's own Christology. And they reveal something crucial about how he views His ministry, the Kingdom of God, so it follows from that. But if we can get our mental calipers around the phrase Son of Man and around the phrase Kingdom of God we will have kind of done what Luke is trying to do, which is to get a fix on the historical Jesus and what He was trying to reveal about Himself, and what he was trying to reveal about His ministry of bringing in the reign of God or the divine saving activity of God.

Well, lets talk about these two phrases as a prelude to being able to look more seriously at Luke's gospel. One of the important questions to ask, since these are the two phrases most regularly on Jesus's lips, is: Is there anywhere in the Old Testament where you find both of these phrases - Son of Man and Kingdom of God. Well the phrase Son of Man is very rare. It occurs in some generic places like Psalm 8. "What is man that thou art mindful of him?" or The Son of Man that thou should fear, and that kind of context that means no more than a progeny of a human being. You know, a human offspring. That's all it means, right?

But there is one text - one text - where we have both the phrase Son of Man and the concept of the Kingdom of God, and that would be Daniel 7. The only place in the Old Testament that these two phrases have a harmonic convergence is there. It follows from that that it might be useful if we looked at the Old Testament background to these two phrases and maybe learn something about why Jesus used them. I think we do learn a great deal about why Jesus uses them.

I'm turning to Daniel, Chapter 7 and I'm going to begin reading to you at the 13th verse, but first let me give you the backdrop in the context. Daniel has been describing a series of beastly empires. These earlier chapters in Daniel might be headed "The Empire Strikes Out". You have one beastly empire after another, and then those things are superceded by a human and humane empire.

These earlier empires - both the empire and the head of the empire - are described as beasts. In other words, they're what? They're subhuman. You get the picture? Why would an emperor or a king be described as a beast? Well, anybody in antiquity would say "Well, it's a subhuman creature." Of course. So in the modern sense of the word these are beastly empires. These are beastly rulers. They're not ruling in a human and humane way, and they are superceded according to Daniel and his visions, by a human figure - one like a Son of Man and a humane empire that's going to last forever. So that's the context, and here's the text beginning with the 13th verse of Daniel 7.

"And as I watched in my night visions I saw Bar[inaudible 06:45] kevar [inaudible 06:46] - " This is, by the way, in Aramaic. This is one of the portions of the Old Testament that's not in Hebrew. This is one of those portions of the Old Testament that's actually in Aramaic. And this is it. He says, "I saw one like a 'Son of Man'." One like a human being. So it's an analogy. "Coming down with the clouds of Heaven, and he came to the Ancient of days - " aka, the really old dude - "and was presented before him, and to Him was given a kingdom. To Him was given dominion, and glory and kingship, That all people's in nations and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will never pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed."

Now this text is very interesting because it comes after the story about empires that are superceded by other empires. The Babylonians are superceded by - the Assyrians were superceded by the Babylonians who were superceded by the Persians who were superceded by Alexander the Great's empire, who were superceded by the Romans. One human empire after another, and each one eventually strikes out. Which by the way, one of the things you should think about is, "How long is the American empire going to last?"

It's a human creation. It's not the Kingdom of God. The "Kingdom of God" is contrasted with all merely human empires in this text. Then we have this image of one "like a human being" and yet apparently more than a human being. Because where is he coming from? He's coming down from Heaven. He's coming on the clouds. He's not going up in smoke he's coming down on a cloud. And any time in Biblical or Jewish literature when somebody's coming on a cloud they're some kind of supernatural being. Its either God coming on the clouds or an angel, or some other kind of supernatural being coming on the clouds.

This one like a "Son of Man" coming with the clouds of Heaven to earth. And what is he coming for? Well, he's coming for Judgment Day. And who's going to assign him the task of judging the world? Well, that would be the ancient of deities which is aka Yahweh, aka the Heavenly Father, the Ruler of the Universe. The Ruler of the Universe has turned over the judging of the world to this Son of Man figure. That's what happened. He came to the ancient of days and was presented before Him and to Him was given dominion and glory and kingship so that all peoples, nations and languages should worship Him.

Now you can translate the Aramaic here to either "worship Him" or "serve Him". Either way they are recognizing that he is a more than merely human person. So, here is where I tell you, friends, that paradoxically as it may seem, the phrase Son of Man refers to a human and yet more than human being. Whereas the phrase Son of God in Jesus's context could easily be taken to mean a very special human being. In fact, almost all ancient near eastern kings were called a son of some deity. In fact, the day that they were called a son of some deity was the day of their coronation.

"You are my beloved son," goes the royal kinging ritual. "Today I have begotten you." Does that sound a little familiar? This is the ritual of coronation of a king. The king becomes God's special son on the day he assumes the office of king. And in the ancient near east the king is sacrosanct. You're not supposed to touch him. Now remember when Israel lusted after having kings like the world has kings? Like the Babylonians and the Assyrians and the Hittites and the Pereasites and the Jebusites and the urbanites all had kings? Remember them? Okay.

And what was the problem with that? It amounted to a renouncing of God as their unique king. They wanted a human king like the other nations. And so God says, "Alright. I'll give you a king in spades." First up to bat: Saul. How'd that turn out? Not so good. Are you with me now?

But you see, the Israelites - they wanted a human kingdom just like everybody else. They didn't just want a Holy Land, they wanted a human kingdom like everybody else. And when Saul became king all of that whole theology of divine kingship was then applied to Saul. So Saul becomes sacrosanct.

Remember this whole business about David not wanting to mess with Saul because he's the Lord's annointed? Right? Now he's sacrosanct. Don't be touching the king. Don't be messing with the king. Don't be killing the king because that's an attack on God. This is God's son.

That whole theology of kingship is part of the essence of what was wrong with Israel. They wanted to be like a nation like other nations, and God had to work with that. If we turn for a minute to first Samuel, Chapter 7, we're going to see something that stands in stark contrast to Daniel 7. So remember your sevens. In this case second Samuel 7, compared to Daniel 7.

Now listen to what God says to David. Listen carefully. Second Samuel 7. Here's God's covenant with David. God says to David, beginning with verse 12, "When your days, David, are fulfilled, and you lie down with your ancestors, you are gathered to your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body and I will establish this kingdom. He shall build a house for my name. And I will establish the throne of His kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he shall be a son to me."

You hear that language? The king becomes God's son.

"I will be a father to him. He shall be a son to me, and when he commits iniquity I'm surely going to punish him with a rod of iron such as mortals use with blows inflicted by human beings. But I will not take away my "chesed", my steadfast love for him as I took it away from Saul whom I put away from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall be made "Alam Alam Alam". Now and forever and forever before me, your throne shall be established forever in accordance with all these words and with all this vision", Nathan spoke these words to David.

Okay. Now lets think about Second Samuel 7 as opposed to Daniel 7. In Second Samuel 7 we are talking about a succession of kings. David is followed by whom? Shaloman. Peace man. Salomon. His name means "person of peace". Right? David is followed by Salomon. Salomon is followed by a descendant of Saloman, etc., etc., etc., etc. But what went wrong? Were these kings faithful to the covenant that God had made with David? Not so much.

Indeed very soon the country would be divided into two parts. And in fact, neither the Israelite nor the Judean kings would be faithful to God. And God's promises are conditional. They are forever conditionally. That is, if we keep going in this trajectory we're good. If we don't - not so much. This is one of the things that you need to understand about the promises of God. Lots of God's promises are conditional.

"If my people who are called by my name will repent, then I will bless them," says the scriptures. That's a conditional promise. What happens if they don't repent? All bets are off. So when you get to Daniel 7, finally you actually get to a forever kingdom. And the reason you have a forever kingdom is because you have a forever person as king. Let me say this one more time. David could not be a forever king. He needed a succession of kings. David, Salomon, his grandchild, his great-grandchild, and so on. But Daniel 7 is not about a succession of kings. It's about a human and yet more than human figure who descends from Heaven and rules on earth forever and ever. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! And the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our God and of his son, who is called a Son of Man here.

Now this is important, because in early Jewish literature when they talked about Messiah they would use the term Messiah, and they would use the term Son of God. They would use the term "God's annointed", "God's chosen one", "God's beloved", but a phrase that they didn't really use about a Messianic figure was Son of Man. This is Jesus's choice of terms. When He wanted to talk about who He was. He spoke of Himself as Son of Man and he was hoping, I presume, that people knew Daniel 7. The place this becomes most evident is that at the trial of Jesus. Caiaphas thinks he's judging Jesus. He's not getting anywhere because the testimonies aren't agreeing. Right?

So finally he decides to force the issue. Are you the Christ, the son of the beloved? Are you the Christ, the son of the blessed one? Jesus says, "I am. But you know what really matters? Is that you will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds to judge you, to a theatre near you."

Caiaphas thinks he's judging Jesus. Jesus says I'll be back after a while to judge you. And he is directly quoting Daniel 7 in Mark 14. Directly quoting Daniel 7 in Mark 14 to explain who He is. He is the one who came first for salvation and second for judging the world. The Son of Man is the one who did that. Now, here's something that's really odd about Jesus's choice of this phrase Son of Man. The phrase Son of Man is in the third person. I mean what kind of person goes around talking about himself in the third person? I mean, that'd be kind of like me saying, you know, "And now Ben is going to teach you about the Gospel of Luke because Ben really is feeling strongly you need to know more about the Gospel of Luke." If I went on like that after a while you'd be calling the psychologist. You know?

Audience: (laughter)

I don't go around talking about myself in the third person. This is what Jesus did. Birds have nests, foxes has holes, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. Who is He talking about? Not some other person. He's talking about Himself. He said, "Humans were not made for the Sabbath. The Sabbath was made for human beings. And by the way, the Son of Man is the Lord on the Sabbath." Who is that?

That would be Jesus. Are you getting the picture now? He talks about Himself in the third person. Now we find this very strange. And the reason is, because of the social aspect of their culture that we did not talk about last night that we must talk about. And that has to do with dyadic personality.

We need to talk about dyadic personality. We live in a world of individual personality. This may be the biggest difference between our culture and all of these ancient Biblical cultures. Two ways to spell it. It's either "dyadic" with a "d" or dyatic with a "t" in the middle. "D-Y-A-D-I- C." Dyadic personality.

What it means is group-oriented based personality, rather than individual personality. That is, the primary thing in every ancient person's life is not who they are in isolation, but who they are in relationships. Let me say that again: The primary thing in regard to all ancient persons was not who they were in isolation from everybody else, and the state from everybody else, but who they were in relationship. Have you ever noticed that all the Christological titles are relational? He is "son" in relationship to God. He is "son" in relationship to humankind. He is "the annointed one of God". He's the Lord of his people. These are all relational terms. They don't tell you who Jesus is in isolation. They tell you who He is in relationship, and that's the nature of that culture. It's a dyadic culture.

Well, what do I mean by that? Have you noticed that the Galilean phone book must have been confusing. Nobody had any last names. Nobody had last names. Jesus was distinguished from other Jesuses by his geographical tag. He's Jesus of Nazareth. Sometimes he was actually called Jesus the son of Joseph, by mistake.

You know, the way that you identified a person and distinguished them from other persons is either tell their geographical origins, or name their father. There's a patronymic. So, for example, Simon, i.e., Peter, is Simon bar Jonah. This means Simon, son of John. Jesus, however, gave him a nickname which was Caiaphas - Rocky. So his real name was Rocky Johnson. right?

He didn't have a last name. A patronymic is not a last name. He is "the son of Jonah". He is "Simon, the son of Jonah". You get the picture? Not a last name. Another way to distinguish people was by epithets that described something about their character. For example, Simon the zealot. "I'm a little intense!" Alright? That's as opposed to "Simon the laid back".

Audience: (laughing)

Sometimes they would use hype. You know, there's Eleazor the short.

I once had a student who had a really good sense of humor. I said to her, "I'll see you shortly." We were going to get back together for a meeting. I said, "I'll see you shortly," and she - she was about 5-foot-1, she said, "You know, Dr. Ben, that's the only way you'll see me, because I'm vertically challenged."

Audience: (laughter)

I liked that. I thought that was good.

Audience: (laughter)

People in Jesus's world weren't distinguished from other people, not in the way we distinguish everybody. In our world, the last name is everything. That's what distinguishes us from other people. I mean, many people could be Ben or John or Cathy, or whoever, right? It's the last names that distinguish us from other people. They didn't have any last names. The phone book must have been really confusing in Galilee.

And the reason is, that they were not all about individual identity. They were not all about individual personality. This is a modern, late Western preoccupation. It's not a Biblical one. It's not in the Bible. I've gone to some churches where they have this banner hovering in the narthex that said, "Accent on the Individual" and I'm going, "No!" We don't need any more accent on the individual. We need accent on the group.

The reason the Protestant movement is a many-splintered thing is we don't do group well. We don't do collective entity well. We don't do body of Christ well. We do radical individualism well. That's what we do well and it's putting the emphasis on the wrong syllable as far as the Bible is concerned. The Bible does not ever put the emphasis on the individual. That is entirely secondary.

What's primary is the group. Always! Always primary - the group you're a part of. When Paul wants to describe the church he doesn't talk about the vineyard versus the Methodist versus the Baptist. When he wants to describe the church he says, "If anyone is 'what'?" In Christ. Your location is in the body of Christ. That's who you are. Period. You're not some individual group. You're in the Lord, and by the way, He's omnipresent. So He's not a little bit over here and a little bit over there. It's, you know, everywhere at once.

We have to rewind our mind and rethread our head on this one. Because individualism is not necessarily a good thing as far as the Bible is concerned. And you know, it affects everything. It affects the way you look at marriage. It affects the way you look at family. It affects the way you look at church, etc. Not good.

But when Jesus goes to Caesarea Philippi and he says, "Who do people say that I am?" He's not taking a Gallup poll. He's acting like an ancient person with dyadic personality. The way a person learned who they were was by asking the group what their identity was. "What does the group say about me? Because that's my identify."

You see, it's not about radical individualism. It never was. But when Jesus wants to identify Himself, He uses a relational phrase and says, "You know, I'm most comfortable calling myself son of man. Because I'm one of you, but I'm like that son of man that came down on the clouds from Heaven in Daniel 7. I'm also one with Him. There was no phrase in the Old Testament that more felicitously combined the divinity and the humanity of our savior than son of man. Rightly understood in light of Daniel 7.

Now look what Daniel says about this man. It says that He is to be worshipped by every tribe and tongue and people in the nation. And how long is this kingdom going to last? Forever and ever and ever and ever. And the reason it's going to last forever is because, not because He's got descendants. Jesus did not marry Mary Magdalene and does not have offspring. Yea, verily. Okay?

Audience: (chuckling)

No, His kingdom's going to last forever because He's forever. And He's going to rule forever, and He's not going to cede his rule to us. In fact, Paul says in First Corinthians 15, "When Jesus returns He's going to finish the job of putting all of his enemies under his feet. He's going to finish the job of spreading the kingdom of God throughout the earth, and at that point, He's not handing the kingdom over to us and say "Run with the ball." He's handing the kingdom back to the father is what it says in First Corinthians 15.

We are simply His agents. I get really tired of ministers who say, "You know, 40,000 people have been converted through my ministry." Word up - first of all, it's not your ministry, and secondly, you didn't convert anybody. Okay? That would be like Shakespeare's quill pen saying "I wrote 15 plays."

Audience: (chuckling)

Not so much. It was the hand of the bard that wrote the plays. You were just the instrument. That's it! So one of the things that we have to deconstruct is:

A: Late Western individualism; and

B: Ego - when it comes to the ministry

Ego. I like the man who said "A big ego is like a big balloon that has been pricked with a pin. It has to continually be blown back up, because it's always losing air." I think that is really true. That is really true. When you've got ego deficiency disease you have to have somebody continually pumping you up. That's the way it works.

Have you noticed that the New Testament figures are not running around struggling with their self-image? Or feelings of low self-worth? In fact, quite the opposite - people like Paul running around boasting all the time. This is not somebody who suffering from ego deficiency.

I mean, I love it. You know, when he - when he's provoked he really goes on a tear. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Hebrews [inaudible 0:29:14]? Me, too. Pharisees? Me, too. In regard to keeping the law - I was blameless. Hello? You were blameless? You didn't break any of these laws? What?

You know, Paul knows how to brag with the best of them.

Audience: (chuckling)

He is not a late Western individualist.

Audience member: (coughing)

He's a person who's part of a corporate culture, a dyadic personality culture and you know - bragging ain't bragging if it's the truth as far as Paul's concerned. You see the truth of the matter is that he's not advocating either false humility or false pride. Somewhere between those two things is the truth and so when Jesus comes, he's not offering up false humility by saying, "I'm just a little old son of man. Poor little old humble me. That's me."

Listen to what Paul does to that story. Listen to what he does to the Daniel 7 story. This is Philippians 2. This is just so powerful. I don't need it. I can just recite it.

"Have this mind in your self that was also in Christ Jesus, who being the very nature of God did not consider the having of the quality with God something to be taken advantage of. So instead, He stripped Himself. He emptied himself, and taking on human form, He took on the form of a servant amongst all human beings. And He was obedient to the Father even unto death on the cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted Him, and given Him a name that's above all names, so that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Now, this is a Christological hymn. The next time we get together we're going talk about Christological hymns and we're going to get into Paul really good. Next time.

But here he is describing the divine trajectory of the Son of Man who came down from Heaven, was fully human, did not renounce His divinity but He did renounce his divine frequent flyer perks.

Audience: (chuckling)

He stripped Himself of the need to push the God button. He didn't push the God button. And here's the interesting thing. Paul says, "Have this mind in yourself." It was also in Christ Jesus. Christ is the model of stepping down. "He humbled Himself," says Paul.

Now if Christ is the model of humility, I put it to you this way brothers and sisters, humility can't have anything to do with feelings of low self-worth. If Christ is the model of humility, if Christ is the exemplar of humility that we are supposed to follow, it has nothing to do with feelings of low self-worth. It has nothing to do with ego deficiency. If there was one person who ever walked the earth, who was confident of who he was, and didn't have an identity crisis, it's Jesus. Come on, now.

You know - you don't see Him with angst, wringing his hands, wandering Galilee, "I'm not so sure who I am. You know, I was worried about this. Yesterday I felt better about this, but not so much today. I don't know what ministry I'm called to. It's hard."

We don't see Jesus doing this. Nor is He guilty of false humility. "Poor little old me, I - you know I'm a quart low on the Holy Spirit this week. I can't do that many miracles. Ask me later!"

We don't have "poor-mouthing" as we'd call it in North Carolina. Jesus doesn't run around poor-mouthing. He does not do that. He is the example of humility. Humility - hear me now - is the posture of a strong person stepping down and serving others. Let me say that one more time. Humility is the posture of a strong person who can do self-sacrifice without losing sense of self. Humility is the strong person stepping down and serving others and that's what Jesus did. Jesus didn't lose his identity when He died on the cross. His identity became clearer on the cross. He was human as if He had never been God and He was God as if He had never been human and the cross revealed that perfect intersection of both His divinity and humanity.

Twas much that we were made like God long before, but that God should be made like us. Much more, said John Donne, the great poet. The son of man was a very interesting way for Jesus to place Himself in the Messianic discussion of His day because it wasn't a tried and true phrase that all early Jews who believed the Messiah was coming would use. He got to fill it with His own concept. His own ideas, because people weren't running around Galilee saying, "The son of man is coming!" No, they were saying the Messiah is coming. They were maybe saying the son of God is coming, but for sure they weren't running around saying the son of man is coming.

his explains something else. You remember when John the Baptist was in prison and he sent two of his disciples to talk to Jesus? What was the question on their lips? Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another? This is John the Baptist, his cousin. Right? What do you think had "confusled" John the Baptist? Jesus wasn't acting like the stereotypical, prefabricated understanding that early Jews had about Messiah. He wasn't acting that way. I mean, John comes and reads everybody the riot act and says, "Here comes the judge. Here comes the judge. Here comes the judge."

You know, if you want to win friends and influence people, don't call them snake sperm. Okay? Don't go there. It's not a good thing. Right? "You brood of vipers," he says. You know? "Who told you to repent? Go away."

You see, John thought that what was going to follow him was the yom Yaweh. The day of the Lord which would be a judgement on Israel. Ka-Boom. And of course, he was right. That's eventually what happened in 70 A.D. What confused him was Jesus, when He begins His ministry, when John is locked away in prison, goes into Galilee saying, "Repent! Good news! The kingdom of God is at hand." Everybody's going, "Oh, my goodness."

John said that meant judgment. Jesus is saying that means salvation. This is because lots of early Jews, like we do, had separated judgment from salvation as if these were two different things. Whereas the Old Testament talks about redemptive judgment. The Old Testament talks about judgment begins where? With the household of God and after you have gone through the judgment, then what happens? The salvation comes thereafter.

After you go through the repentance, then the salvation comes, thereafter. After you go through the turning around and becoming a new creature, then salvation is with you. It's a redemptive judgment. It's a merciful judgment.

John was confused. For one thing, Jesus wasn't running around calling Himself Son of God. For another thing, He wasn't going around and condemning everybody. He was healing people, you know? Jesus was like, "Peace, love and happiness, dude." You know? And John's going, "What is up with that? The judgment of God is coming on Israel and you're going around healing people? What has this got to do with it?" He was not expecting this. A good sermon.

Jesus didn't come to meet our expectations. He came to meet our needs. He didn't even come to meet John the Baptist's expectations. He came to meet their needs. That's what was going on.

Now lets talk about this other phrase that keeps showing up on Jesus's lips, because we have a lot of problems with that. On the way here, I passed a certain kingdom. It had rides, ferris wheels, you've undoubtedly been to this kingdom, or you've seen it on the highway as you went by. See, when we think of kingdom, we think of a place. Here's the problem: The Aramaic word behind this word is "malkuth". When Jesus spoke about this He talked about the malkuth Yahweh. Malkuth. The Hebrew word for king is "Melekh". The word for what He's talking about is malkuth.

He's not talking in the first instance about a place. When we think of the Magic Kingdom or the United Kingdom, we think of a place. Right? This is not the primary sense of what Jesus is talking about in the present tense. When he says, "If I, by the spirit of God, cast out demons you will know that the malkuth of God has broken into your midst."

He's not talking about "there's a new piece of geography" here in Jerusalem. He's not talking about a place. He's talking about the divine saving activity breaking into human history. He's not even talking about just the reign of God in general. I mean, all Jews believed that God was omnipresent and omnipotent, and that he reigned. You know, this is not what this means. This is not about the abstract idea that God rules the universe. This is not about that. This is about God's divine saving activity breaking into human history and changing things.

If I, by the spirit of God, cast out demons, then you know that God's reign has broken into that person's life and set him free from bondage. It's the divine eschatological saving activity. What Jesus is proclaiming is the end time saving activity of God. The final chance for the world. This is why it has such urgency. "It's at hand," says Jesus. "It's breaking in right now. You need to accept it."

So He's not talking about a place. He's not talking about the abstract concept that God is sovereign and reigns. He's talking about the divine in breaking, saving activity that's changing the world, starting now. That's what He's talking about.

So, I would prefer the word that's used in my translation of Daniel 7: Dominion. Not kingdom. Dominion. And why do I prefer that English word? Because the word dominion in English can be either a noun or a verb. You can have dominion over somebody. That's a verb. You can also enter a dominion. That's a place.

What I'm going to say to you is, that Jesus, and then Paul after him, uses this word that we call kingdom - malkuth in the Aramaic, basileia in the Greek. He uses it in two senses. In the present he's talking about the divine saving activity. Okay? When he talks about future, he is talking about a place. (musically) "There's a place for us, somewhere a place for us."

When He talks about it in the future, He talks about entering it. He talks about obtaining it. He talks about inheriting it. Now He is talking about a place. If you're entering it it's a place. There's a door into it. There's a gate. It's a narrow way. Here's the thing: right now He's talking about the divine saving activity of God. In the future He's talking about a place where that is fully manifest on earth as it is in Heaven.

So, the word dominion, I think, in English does a better job of conveying both the verbal sense of this Hebrew and Aramaic word and the noun sense. It's referring to not just kingdom but kingship. It's referring not to saving activity but a saved place, a holy land. But that's in the future.

Now what's interesting to me is that when Paul uses the kingdom language, which he does at least seven times in his letters, he uses it with the same degree of specificity as Jesus does. When Paul talks about the kingdom in the present, if you want to put it that way, he's talking about changed lives. For example, he says to his Roman converts, "The kingdom of God does not consist in eating and drinking, but in love and joy and peace in the Holy Ghost," he says.

Now, he's not talking about a place. He's talking about a condition. God's reign in your life. God's saving activity in your life, which produces the fruit of the spirit. Are you with me now? You get the picture? It's a divine saving activity in my life. It's not about a place. Okay?

But when Paul talks about the kingdom in the future, he says things like, "Brothers and sisters, flesh and blood can not inherit the kingdom of God." Ahh - there's that language of inherit. What three words did I say that used - that signal that he's talking about a kingdom in the future? Obtain, enter or inherit.

Now he's talking about a place. Now he's talking about the kingdom of God coming on earth as it is in Heaven. Now he's talking about the new Heaven and the new earth. Which, by the way, is our final destination. If you really want to avoid putting the emphasis on the wrong syllable, stop talking to people about dying and going to Heaven.

The New Testament spends about two percent of its time talking about that, and 98 percent of the time talking about resurrection. That you're going to be raised like Jesus was raised when he comes back. And when you're raised, their kingdom is going to come on earth, as it was in Heaven. Our final destination is not (musically) "Somewhere out there."

Our final destination is to rule with Christ upon the earth and the new Heaven and new earth. The finish line at the end of the Book of Revelations is not somewhere out there, it's down here. There's a corporate merger of Heaven and earth and right here, on terra firma, is where you're going to finally land. This is our final destination, no "Beam me up Scotty" theology. Okay?

This is our final dwelling place. God will come down and dwell with us forever and ever. Hallelujah. And the future is going to be so bright we're going to need really good, dark glasses. There will be no more need of sun and God will dwell in our midst and it will be really bright, to say the least. You get the picture? Okay.

So, kingdom can describe a place but not now; in the future. When the kingdom language shows up in the present it's talking about the reign of God in the life of human beings here and now. The saving activity of God in the life of human beings here and now.

That's kingdom; that's malkuth; that's basileia. More about realm in the future, it's more about reign in the present. It's more like - about dominion as a place in the future. It's more about having dominion over us in the present. I mean, an exorcism is a perfect example of this. What happens? When you're possessed, something wicked this way comes and has possession of you, has dominion over you - has Lordship in your life.

What happens with an exorcism? That landlord is sent packing. You are no longer under the Lordship of a malevolent force. You've got a new sheriff in town. You've got the spirit of God in your life. That brings me to another little point. It's not a minor point, though. If Jesus was Lord of your life He's Lord of all your life. There is no room for two Lordships in the same life at one time. So none of this nonsense about Christians being possessed. I mean, this is just an un-Biblical idea.

If Christ is Lord of your life I think He's powerful enough to account for Himself. The holy spirit is ruling in your life. I think He's powerful enough to account for Himself. You can be bewitched, bothered and bewildered from the outside by powers of darkness as a Christian, and of course, we are. We're tempted. We're tried, etc. But it's not within you. What's in you is Christ in you, the hope of glory. What's in you is the holy spirit ruling in your life. You are not - if you are a Christian, if anyone's in Christ they're a new creature and what dwells in their lives is the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And that's got Lordship over their lives.

There's a lot of loose talk, especially in Deliverance ministries about - you know, I was suffering from a demon of this and a demon of that and it really isn't Biblical. Not what the New Testament says.

The people who are suffering from this are people who are pre-Christian. Non-Christian. We need to name and claim the victory we have in Christ and not mis-theologically label what our condition is. We are Christians who are still under construction, but we have that strong Lord in our life.

The contrast in the tension in the Christian life is not between old persons and new persons, it's between outer and inner. Outwardly we are wasting away in Old Margaretville. Inwardly we are being renewed day by day says Paul, by the grace of God. Tension in the Christian life is that we are new persons in old bodies. Can I get an "amen" to that?

Audience: Amen.

That body keeps talking to me about that, you know?

Audience member: (chuckling)

The weak chink in the Christian's armor is that while our minds and our hearts and our spirits and our emotions and our wills are being renewed inwardly by the work of God's grace. Outwardly we are wasting away. The weak chink in our armor is our bodies. That's it. And they're terminal. Unless Jesus comes back before you die or resurrections happens before you die.

One of the things we need to get straight is that within our inner being of who we are dwells the Lord of the universe. This is such a hard concept to get hold of. Christ in you. In you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and you. And you know - and this is not about I feel like that's the way it is, because you know, our feelings are notoriously bad gods to what the truth is.

Have you noticed how deceptive feelings are? Our culture is all about feelings, and feelings are a horrible guide to relationships and everything else, too. You know? People say, "I can not deny my feelings." Well, yes you can. Yes you can. You do admit that you have them. That's honesty, but then what you do with them is a whole 'nother matter. What are you supposed to do with them? Just, you know, glorify them because they're feelings? They're, (musically) "Feelings, nothing more than feelings."

No. Have you noticed that in the New Testament that love is commanded? Have you ever tried to command your feelings? I'M GOING TO BE INTERMINABLY JOFUL FOR THE NEXT FIVE POINT THREE MINUTES. (pause) Whoo-hoo! (high-pitched voice) I'm feeling good boys and girls. (low voice) Hello, everybody. It's your old pal Grover and I am joyful now.

No, it doesn't work that way. You can not command your feelings. You can not do it. Feelings take you for a ride. They come and go. You may get to a worship service expecting for a good buzz, but that'll be a by-product. It's not the product. You can't control it. It happens. Feelings happen, you know? And they are subject to so many vicissitudes. The state of your health - how rested are you? I mean, I could list you 20 things that affect your feelings. Right?

When the New Testament says love your neighbor as yourself, it does not mean have warm, mushy feelings about your neighbor daily. When it says love your enemies, it doesn't even mean you need to like them very much. The fact that love can be commanded and feelings can't ought to tell us He's not talking about feelings. He's not. These two phrases are keys into the heart of Jesus and how He viewed Himself and how He viewed His ministry.

It's crucial that we get hold of those if we really want to understand Jesus. Now with that, we're ready to look at Luke. So, lets talk about Luke.

He's the historian and he's deliberately writing as a historian. If I were to take the time I could show you prefaces to other ancient historical works. For instance, there's the famous Greek historian named Polybius. There's another famous Greek historian named Thucydides. There's a famous Jewish historian whose name you probably do know: Josephus. Right?

When you look at other ancient historical works look at the preambles to their historical works. This preface to Luke's gospel is like that. He's stating that he's a serious historian and he's going to write using sources, consulting eyewitnesses. He's going to follow the very best tradition of Greek historiography, consulting the eyewitnesses, getting to the straight bottom truth about these things and writing an orderly account. That's what he says he's doing.

But who is he writing for? He's writing for Theophilus, probably a particular individual. Can you imagine being a particular young, neophyte Christian who's literate, the first one who got hold of this gospel, and here were 24 chapters about Jesus. Of course, he didn't know it was 24 chapters 'cause there were no chapters in verses. But it was one honkin' long scroll, right? Written in scriptum continuum about Jesus.

Not only that, shortly thereafter comes part two, the sequel. The Book of Acts, 28 chapters now. Luke's either very long-winded or there are a lot of important things to say. One or the other. Probably Theophilus was a Gentile, but equally probably he was a God fearer.

Why do I say that? Because Luke frequently quotes the Greek Old Testament, which was the Bible of Jews in the Diaspora. He frequently quotes the Greek Old Testament. He doesn't know Aramaic or Hebrew. Now, how do we know that? In the passages that Luke uses from Mark where Mark uses an Aramaic phrase, like when Jesus raises the daughter of Jairus and says Talitha Koum, Luke just leaves that right on out. You know, it's like a student writing a term paper reading the source that has German in it and doesn't know German, and they just like sort of like missed that bit out. Move on to the English here.

Luke uses the Greek Old Testament. He uses the LXX, the Greek Old Testament, the translation of the Old Testament throughout both of his volumes - in the gospel and in the Book of Acts. This man is not only literate, he's eloquent. He tells stories powerfully. When you get to the parables of Jesus in Luke, he has expanded them so that many of them are powerful short stories.

I mean - think about it. Where is the parable of the prodigal son? It's only in Luke's gospel. Where is the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector? The IRS man. That's only in Luke. Where is the parable of the Good Samaritan? I mean, the parables that really have shown up as more of a narrative, not just a brief analogy? They're in Luke. Luke is a gifted writer. He's a powerful writer and he's eloquent. The way he tells a story is just remarkably powerful. (music)

Luke has been called the historian of salvation history. And what he does in his first two chapters in the Gospel of Luke is really remarkable. He writes it in the style of the history writing in the Old Testament. It's clear that he's deeply saturated in the stories of the Old Testament about the coming of kings. So, he deliberately has echoes from the story of Hannah in Luke 1 and 2.

Now you know the story of Hannah. Who was she the mother of? Samuel. And at what point in her life did she have this child? (pause) She was old. That's right. She had her AARP card already. There is a deliberate casting of the story such that we will think of previous examples of remarkable stories of birth, and then when you have the "Ode to Joy" of Elizabeth it echoes Hannah's song in Samuel as well.

The saying that the child would be dedicated to God is the same between Samuel and John the Baptist, and so what Luke is doing is he's showing that on the one hand the story that he's narrating is a continuation of salvation history. As God had done it before, he does it similarly now. There are things to be learned from the Old Testament sacred texts from those stories about kings and kingdoms and remarkable births, and important prophets and Messianic figures.

But Luke is doing much more than that as well. He's taking the time to begin the stories slowly so that we will see ourselves in the narrative. We'll have a sense of the plight of God's people and the need for deliverance and salvation. Of course, this film - which is a very fine film, called "The Nativity" - really gives you the sense of the context, that it was a difficult time. It was a threatening time. It was not a good time for a Messiah to show up because Jews didn't have control even over their own land. But God doesn't come at convenient times. He comes when the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand.

So this story is told carefully and elegantly and even the Greek has been called here like Jewish Greek. You know, it would be like us going around "yea verily" and speaking King James 8.

The Greek in this part of the gospel is different from the Greek later in the gospel because he's trying to get this feel that it's a continuation of the Old Testament story. The way Luke looks at that becomes clear later. He, in essence is going to say that John the Baptist is the watershed figure. He's the last Old Testament prophet. He's the end of the line of the story of the old covenant. He's the watershed that has one foot in the old and one foot in the new and looking towards the coming of the Messiah. Jesus is going to praise John the Baptist as the greatest of all men born of women, but he's then going to say that even the least in the kingdom of God is greater than him.

So, it's a story of continuation, but it's also a story of new beginnings, too. There's an overlap between the old and the new in the persons of Zechariah and Elizabeth, but not only in the persons of Zechariah and Elizabeth, in the life of Mary. In the life of Joseph and the people that they meet. They go up to Jerusalem and they meet people like Simeon and Anna, who definitely represent the old order and the Old Testament prophecy scene.

No question - there's this beautifully melded overlap so that when you get to the actual point of telling the story of John the Baptist, you have the context. You know, one of the problems we have in dealing with the birth stories, is of course, we've melded them together in our mental cuisinarts.

There are no wise men in Luke 1 and 2. There are no shepherds in Matthew 1 and 2. These are different stories and they're told from different points of view. Some have said Luke 1 and 2 is told more from a woman's point of view - Elizabeth and Mary - where Matthew 1 and 2 is told more from a man's point of view - especially Joseph. Indeed.

Well, I think there's some truth to that. These stories are not competing stories. They supplement one another in various ways. The places that they have overlap are interesting. Both of these birth narratives insist on a very unusual impregnation, a virginal conception. I don't say virgin birth because the miracle doesn't happen at birth so far as we can tell. The miracle happens at the point of conception, so the miracle is the miracle of the virginal conception.

This is a crucial issue. It's so important that both of these very different tellings of the beginnings mention this idea. They also mention that Jesus is from Nazareth. They also mention that Jesus is born in Bethlehem, not in Nazareth. Both of these accounts agree on those three things but in other regards they are completely different accounts. Not discordant, just different. Different points of view. Different perspectives pursuing different angles of the story, and of course, what this film is trying to do is meld them together. How do you get the stories together?

You know, our image of Christmas is concocted not only from blending the gospels together but from later Christian traditions. Let me read to you from the Gospel of Luke just for a minute verses you will have heard over Christmas, I suspect. But listen to what the text actually says. I'll be reading to you from Luke 2, so listen closely. I'm already skipping to verse five. We're skipping on the names.

"So Joseph went to be registered with Mary to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child and while they were there" - nothing's said about it happening immediately when they arrive. First of all the Greek is clear, it just says "while they were there" - sooner or later. "While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child and she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger because there was no room in the guest room."

If your translation says "there was no room in the inn" - not a very good translation. Here's the word "kataluma". If you do a word study on this Greek word, it is used elsewhere in Luke's gospel. It refers to the room in which the Passover was celebrated by Jesus and his disciples. The guest room. It does not say there was no room in the inn.

Now lets talk about Bethlehem for a minute. Bethlehem was not even a one stop sign town, never mind a one stoplight town. Bethlehem, so far we can tell, had no inn. It was not big enough to have even a Holiday Inn Express. It was not on any major road. When Luke wants to talk about an inn, he uses a very different Greek word. It's pandokheion. This is the word used in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Where did the Good Samaritan leave the wounded man? At the inn in Jericho. This word, not that word. Are you with me now?

Luke has a perfectly good word for "inn" and he doesn't use it in the birth story. So, what are we talking about here? This totally reconfigures the Christmas story, so I'm messing with you now. Are you ready? He was born in a place where there was a manger because there was no room in the guest room. So what's happened? The holy family has arrived at the ancestral home in Bethlehem - Joseph's ancestral home - and other relatives have gotten there first, so what happened? The guest room is booked up. So where do they put Mary and Joseph? They don't send them off to the Holiday Inn Express. They put them in the back of the house. The back of the house is where you kept your most precious beast of burden.

Hence, there was a manger there. Hence, there was a food crib, or trough, there. Alright? So let me draw you a picture of what we're talking about here. Here's the house. (marker squeaking) A typical rectangular Jewish home with an opening.

Basically they had regions in the house. You saw this some in the way they depicted it, which they did a nice job of. There's this sort of living area for the family and this is both living and cooking area near the front door so the smoke goes that way because they didn't have chimneys. Over here would be a guest room, if they could afford it and the house was big enough. And then there would be a partition in the house, and behind the partition is where you keep the animals, so there would be a corn crib here. You put your beast of burden in the back of the house. There's the back door where they can come in, if you want to go somewhere that's not smelly and stinky. There's a stairway on the outside of the house, and where do you go? Up on the roof is where you go. Okay?

Now, this is a normal first century house, whether it's mud brick, or made out of stones, this is a normal first century house and what we're being told in Luke 2 is that the holy family ended up in the back part of the ancestral home where they would normally keep the ox, because they didn't want it stolen at night. But in this case, they simply put Mary and Joseph and the baby there, and the baby was laid in the corn crib, right there.

So, no more sermons about there was no room in the inn and the world cast Jesus out. No more sermons like that, thank you very much.

Audience: (chuckling)

And also, no more "Bethlehem was inhospitable." No, they just didn't get there in time to book up the guest room. And of course, they couldn't send an email message in advance to tell people on top of which, they probably couldn't afford to send a courier with a message that had been written out by a scribe. So when they showed up, they showed up and they said, "Well, more of our relatives." The way they were, "Where do we put them now?" And the head of the household says "Put 'em in the back of the house." So that's where they need to go, friend.

Audience member: (clears throat) I have a question about the census that it talks about.


Audience member: That Caesar decreed. I didn't realize that the Romans were interested in going to the families' homeland, or the - Joseph's homeland.


Audience member: Or city.

Well, we found this practice in other Roman provinces. In Egypt the Egyptians were asked for the census to go to their ancestral towns, so we know it's a known Roman practice. It would just be applying to Judea where they'd already done for the taxation of Egypt, and probably other provinces as well. And they did depict this correctly, that there's two taxes, of course. There's money for Caesar but there's also money for the temple. The so-called temple tax, as well. Which, if you noticed, is less. It's the Tyrian half shekel, rather than the full Tyrian shekel. Caesar wants a bigger cut than the temple gets, okay? So - yes, that did happen.

Now if you're wondering where the nice little Jesus was born in a barn thing comes from, it's not in Matthew, it's not in Luke. It comes from St. Francis of Assisi. He's the first one who put the shepherds and the wise men and the holy family together in a barn. And he's the first one that suggested that's how we should celebrate the birth of Jesus. But if you're wondering where that whole scenario comes from and where we started going on the Christmas pageants, it was St. Francis of Assisi. You can blame him. He's the one.

Now - if you read the story in Matthew 1 and 2 and you read Luke's story in Luke 1 and 2, it's perfectly clear that the shepherds come at the time of Jesus's birth. The wise men come later. In fact, the Matthean text says, "And when they were at home," (chuckles) "when they were at home" - that is, in the ancestral home - "they were visited by the wise men." Okay? Some other things, if you read the details of - do the exegesis of Luke 1 and 2 and Matthew 1 and 2 - we don't know the names of the wise men and while we're at it, they're not kings.

So, no more (musically) "We three kings of orient are." Not so much - no, they are astrologers. They are called "Magus Magi", from which we get the word "magi". Okay? They are astrologers. They are court counselors to kings. They are the ones who consult the stars and have wisdom, not only about the future from the stars but they have other kinds of wisdom, so they are - if you will - the advisors to a king. But they aren't kings. They aren't kings.

Nor do we know that there are three of them. There were three gifts, but three gifts could be given by ten people. We don't know how many there were. There could have been two, there could have been three, there could have been ten. We do not know. We just don't know.

So much of this story - and the reason I'm doing this is encrusted with later Christian mythology, that what you have to do, is you have to - when you strip it down to the bare beautiful story of Luke or Matthew, it's a wonderfully beautiful story but it's just not the story we usually tell at Christmas.

And here's the problem with that: When you blend the Biblical story with later legend and myth, and people find out that there's later legend and myth, the same thing happens to the Christian story that happens to Santa Claus. They throw literally the baby out with the bath water. The important thing about the Christmas story is to be honest about the story, and tell us what it does say and what it doesn't say.

Lets talk about those two visitors - sets of visitors: The shepherds versus the wise men - just for a minute.

Luke is emphasizing that the least, the last and the lost will become the first, the most and the found because the savior of the world has arrived, and so instead of being visited by the high and mighty, he's being visited by the most plebian person imaginable. In fact, in Judaism, shepherds were not only considered stinky and dirty like their sheep, they were generally considered unclean. So the story of the shepherd getting in on the birth of Jesus is a remarkable story, and it would have been unexpected by the Pharisees. What? The Messiah shows up and who shows up? Not the Pharisees and the clean Levites? The shepherds show up? I'm thinking not, say the Pharisees. You know, this is not what they expected.

I like what one ancient preacher said about this story. He said, "We were looking for a king to slay our foes and lift us how - high; thou cam'st a little baby thing that made a woman cry." One of the earliest Christian hymns from the Middle Ages says, "The Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born, unless he's born in you, your heart is still forlorn."

This story doesn't meet expectations. It's a surprising story, all the way around. It has one surprise after another after another and part of the surprise is the shepherds. You know? I don't know if you spent time with shepherds and sheep. I have. I've been to Bethlehem.

Audience: (murmuring)

I've seen the Bedouins. I've seen the stinky sheep. I've smelled the stinky sheep. These folks might not normally be on anybody's guest list, but they were there, sang Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to human beings of God's favor. And it shows that Luke wants to make clear that this is a savior, not only for the first, the most and the found, not only for the socially elite like Ezechias, the tax collector, but also for the least, the last and the lost.

I like it when Peter Marshall once said, "Jesus was born in a corn crib to show that no human being was beneath his dignity." He lifts us up from below. Not from on high. (music) And he is honored from below by the shepherds. It's powerful.